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Saratoga City Council Would Expand Under Proposed Charter

The Saratoga Springs 2018 Charter Review Commission (file photo)
Lucas Willard
The Saratoga Springs 2018 Charter Review Commission

A commission in Saratoga Springs has proposed updates to the city’s governing document. If approved, the changes could add seats to the city council — the first expansion of the council in city history.

Once again, Saratogians are debating how city government operates.

The current Charter Review Commission was appointed by first-term Mayor Meg Kelly in March, just months after a proposed city charter from a previous commission failed at the ballot box by only 10 votes.

Unlike the previous commission, this Charter Review Commission is made up of city officials, including city attorney Vince DeLeonardis, the city’s four city council members, excluding Mayor Kelly, and their deputy commissioners.

DeLeonardis introduced proposed revisionsto the city code at a public hearing Tuesday night.

“Tonight’s forum is to discuss and hear from the public on our proposed revisions to the charter, which we believe furthers the directive we were provided in finding efficiencies and organizational improvements,” said DeLeonardis.

The draft charter focuses on how each of the city’s departments, led by an elected commissioner who also serves on the city council, can find efficiencies by becoming more flexible or realigning certain responsibilities.

But the biggest change would be the makeup of the city council itself, expanding the body from five to seven members.

That change was proposed by Commissioner of Accounts John Franck. He likened city government to Saratoga’s famed thoroughbred track.

“If Saratoga didn’t update their racetrack, then Saratoga wouldn’t be what it is. However, they also kept the historic charm and what’s really worked,” said Franck.

While the five existing commissioners would remain, two additional councilors without departmental responsibilities would be added.

Franck dismissed the notion that the new councilors would be seen as “junior” commissioners and called the new seats enviable positions.

“Though you may not have an office to run, you’re going to have a lot of people coming to you because by not having to run an office you can get out to the people, I think, in a more easy manner,” said Franck.

One of the major criticisms of the city’s system of government is that it excludes non-wealthy or non-retired people from running for office. Currently, city councilors are paid $14,500 a year for positions they characterize as a full-time commitment. 

The idea to expand the council was supported by Matthew Jones, a member of the 2017 Charter Review Commission. Jones was not in favor of the prior body’s recommendation to abandon the commission-style form of government for a council-manager form. But he spoke favorably of the current proposal, calling the two additional members-at-large a “novel and creative idea.”

“And may very well work, and I think it’s worth a try to do that, to address that circumstance where many in the community just don’t have an opportunity to serve in the functions that you all sit here, along with the mayor, because they’re time simply does not commit. So I think it’s a creative solution and I commend you for it,” said Jones.

DeLeonardis shared results of a survey that showed city residents are still divided on expanding the council. 49 percent of respondents support the expansion, while 42 percent oppose.

Should the city council expand, respondents were asked if they would prefer the two additional seats to be occupied by the city’s two elected county supervisors or if they would prefer a separately elected candidate.

The results of the survey showed clear support for a separate candidate.

“The responses here indicated a pretty wide majority of the responders preferring new council members at large, taking 50 percent. And only 31 percent indicating they would prefer those members to be county supervisors, and 20 percent indicating they did not know or refused to respond,” said DeLeonardis.

DeLeonardis encouraged members of the public to continue submitting comments.

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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